Challenge your inner critic

At some point in the research process, everyone is plagued by that inner critic telling you that you’re useless, unsuccessful, the worst researcher in the world… Chengcheng Kang talks about how to override that critical voice and replace it with your own…

I can do it!” I tell myself this whenever I face difficulties. Doing a PhD is not easy, often you will spend the whole day alone. It’s therefore important to get along with yourself. I often doubt myself, wondering whether or not I can actually do the task at hand. I found Tara Mohr’s book Playing Big useful in combatting this – I recommend reading it!

Inner voices that hold you back often come from your subconscious and are built upon your background and previous experiences to keep us away from potential emotional risks, danger and embarrassment. Even the environment around you can affect the ‘inner critic’. It’s something we’re born with and nearly everyone experiences this voice. For example: “I can’t do it.” “I won’t be able to achieve that.” “I lack the preparation.” “I am not ready.” “This is too risky.” “I need to lose some weight…” These might sound familiar to you. If they are, don’t be afraid of them. Instead, believe in yourself! You are more powerful and strong than you think you are.

Mohr’s book offers some solutions to solve these fears and step out of your comfort zone.

1. Tell the inner critic to “stop!”

Every day I have the inner critic in my head. I can’t control my mind to stay blank but I control the inner critic by saying “Stop!”. I then have a few minutes of quiet before continuing what I was doing. Playing Big suggests lowering the volume of the critic’s voice. Imagine locating the voice, placing it in a box, giving it a bow and sending it into space.

I then find it useful to counteract the critic by telling myself “I can do it! I am capable of doing it! Even when I face difficulty, I have friends and supervisors to help me. All I need is to believe in myself and ask for help”.

2. Notice it, label it, separate it

Mohr tells us that as soon as we hear the inner critic we should label it. This reminds us that it is not the truth, but the critic talking. Once you have labelled it, you can separate the internal critic from your own voice. For example, instead of repeating the critic by saying “I can’t…” say, “My inner critic is saying that I can’t…” I find these steps work really well for me. Once I have labelled the critic I talk about what I want to do, how I should do this and make a step by step plan. As Jemma from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. said: “The steps you take don’t need to be big; they just need to take you in the right direction.”

Now that you have separated the inner critic from your own voice, Mohr recommends visualising a character that personifies the inner critic. It can be anything, it doesn’t have to be a real person. After we have personified it, we can trace it back to the reason the voice exists. As I mentioned above, the inner critic may be based on a previous experience or what other people have said to you. There might be a number of sources, but you can find and conquer it. Mohr suggests telling your inner critic: “Thanks for your input, but I’ve got this one covered”, or “Take it easy, I got this one!”

We are much stronger than we think, so we should believe in ourselves! Try different things, try to come out of your comfort zone and see a more beautiful world. We need to identify our inner critic to face our difficulties. Many thanks to Dr. Bo Kelestyn for her encouragement and recommendation of this book.


Disclaimer: PhDLife and its authors have no affiliation with Tara Mohr or her work


How do you silence your inner critic? What advice do you have for researchers looking to boost their self-confidence? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.


Chengcheng Kang is a PhD candidate from Beijing, China in Group of Information System Management at the Warwick Business School. You may contact her on Twitter at @cckkcc29


Image: chess-pawn-king-game-tournament-1483735 / klimkin / CC0 1.0

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